Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy blogging about the sleazy manufacturers who give all of us a bad name, or the charlatans who make a travesty of lean when they ascribe outsourcing and downsizing to their lean strategy. I am positive and optimistic about manufacturing in general – especially the smaller and mid-sized privately owned manufacturers who are leading the lean effort in the U.S. and around the world. I think it is that most manufacturers are good and honestly committed to learning how to become lean enterprises that the makes the exceptions stand out so noticeably.
It is refreshing – even invigorating – to see lean at its best and to see solid American manufacturing companies demonstrating just how valuable lean manufacturing can be not only to themselves and their stakeholders, but to the community at large. Wabash National is an excellent case in point. These guys make what the big time business community sees as a boring product – truck trailers. They make ’em in dull, out of the mainstream ‘flyover states’ like Indiana. Despite being one of Industry Week’s 50 Best Companies, turning themselves around from some pretty dark times, and currently ramping capacity up by 20% to meet their booming demand, they don’t get much attention from the business press – not nearly as glamorous as a New York City headquartered multinational outsourcer, apparently.
But Wabash National is pretty lean and they are getting leaner all the time. They also have a lot of class and integrity. I guess they did not see the help they got along their lean journey from the state of Indiana for employee lean training as an entitlement that the government somehow owed them. Instead they saw it as a sort of investment in them by the community – and that the community is entitled to a return on that investment.
However they saw it, there is a great story about Wabash National in the Lafayette Journal & Currier this morning. Antonio DePaolo, Wabash National Director of Continuous Improvement, was at the local food bank teaching them about lean – helping them use lean principles and techniques to cut the cost and the cycle time for getting food from the warehouse out to the floor, where local agencies could better get their hands on the goods it takes to take care of the Lafayette area folks in need.
You can pretty well bet that this blog post is all the national publicity Wabash National or the article will get today. The national business press is far too concerned about how Wall Street is reacting to speculation about potential mergers and acquisitions at Ford to notice this sort of thing. That’s too bad. I’ll bet that a whole lot of manufacturers all over the world reached out to their communities yesterday to share their lean competence in some small way. My hat’s off to the Indiana reporter who noticed. I only wish that more people really knew how valuable it is in so many ways to have a high class, lean manufacturer in their neighborhood.